Ventura has struck a 20-year deal with a Riverside County water wholesaler that would save the city millions of dollars in costs to maintain its rights to imported state water.
Under the agreement approved last month, the city would lease its share of imported water to the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency in Beaumont, an arrangement that would reap $1.1 million this year and cover nearly half of the $2.27 million it will owe to keep its state water entitlement. San Gorgonio would increase its share of the costs starting next year.
Ventura has had rights to State Water Project supplies since the early 1970s, paying up to $1.5 million annually, but it has no inter-tie to access the project, a network of dams, pumps and aqueducts that draws snow and rain runoff from Northern California.
The city has an all-local water supply that comes from the Ventura River, Lake Casitas, groundwater and recycled water. A planned seven-mile pipeline from Camarillo to Ventura would change that, allowing the city to connect to lines that carry imported water through eastern Ventura County. But the start of construction is still years away.
To recoup some of its costs, Ventura has leased its share of state water to the San Gorgonio wholesaler annually for the past four years. But, now, new state rules allow such agreements to span multiple years.
Ventura's City Council and the San Gorgonio agency's board approved the agreement in late April, but the deal also needs the approval of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors and the state Department of Water Resources. Those votes are expected in the next few months.
Betsy Cooper, Ventura Water’s assistant general manager, said the multi-year agreement would allow more economic certainty for the city and save time and effort in negotiating yearly leases.
“Twenty years is good for the city because it guarantees extra revenue for us to cover these ongoing costs,” she said.
City officials estimate the fixed costs to range from $2.3 million to $2.75 million annually.
San Gorgonio, taking on most of the financial risks, also needed a long enough time span to balance out the annual fluctuations of state water allocations seen in wet and dry years, Cooper said.
A 60-40 split
The city has an annual entitlement of 10,000 acre-feet, but the allocations typically come up short because they vary by how much water is available.
In dry years, officials release just a portion of requested allocations to the 29 municipal and agricultural districts under contract to receive State Water Project supplies.
This year, the state set allocations at 5% citing two years of drought conditions. Ventura’s allocation would drop to 500 acre-feet. Under the agreement, San Gorgonio would receive the city's entire allocation for only half the cost. Starting next year, however, the water agency would pay all of the city’s reimbursable fixed costs and have rights to Ventura's full allocation.
That arrangement will continue until the city finishes its pipeline. City officials expect the project, currently in the design phase, to go out to bid late next year. Construction then would take roughly two additional years.
When the pipeline is built, the city plans to keep 2,000 acre-feet of its yearly allocation and pay 40% of the costs. San Gorgonio would pay 60% of the costs and receive the remaining water.
Officials project the state water allocation to reach an average of 50% over the next 20 years. That means the city’s share of average annual 5,000 acre-feet would be split 60-40 with 2,000 for the city and 3,000 for San Gorgonio.
Some years, when the allocation falls below 2,000 acre-feet, San Gorgonio will pay the money and receive no water.
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Once the pipeline is built, the city’s share of imported water is expected to help improve water quality rather than serve as a new supply. Plans call for blending the state water with local supplies on the east side of the city.
Estimates show the city needs up to 1,500 acre-feet to improve water quality, Cooper said.
The agreement has termination options for both parties, such as when state allocations drop below 30% for three consecutive years. Ventura also can request a one-year pause in case of local water supply emergencies.
“The city's entitlement is not being sold,” Cooper said. “A portion is just been leased to San Gorgonio during this 20-year period.”
Cheri Carlson covers the environment for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at email@example.com or 805-437-0260.